“Life is a Book, and those who don’t travel read only a page.” —St. Augstine, 354-430 AD
May 22, 2017
This week we are celebrating our 10th anniversary of taking off to travel full-time. As I look back on these immensely fulfilling years, I realize how right St. Augustine was when he wrote those insightful words 1,600 years ago.
Our ten year RV and sailing voyage has been an unbelievable journey in every way, and we still wake up every day feeling blessed and fortunate to live the way we do.
What a cool life!
May, 2017. Where did the years go?
Ten years is a significant chunk of our lives. When we started, we were passionate cyclists, and that hobby defined not only our every waking hour but our relationship too.
Now our days revolve around sightseeing, photography, meeting new people, writing about our experiences and moving from place to place. The evolution makes sense, though, because a big part of our love of cycling — and of bicycle touring especially — was being outdoors and seeing new scenery and camping.
Looking back at all we’ve been through for the last 10 years, we wouldn’t change a thing.
To celebrate our 10 years on the road, I have dug through our memories and older photos to find the images and moments that stand out in our minds. This post and the next share our full story and our evolution. It’s a long story, but to me, the best ones always are.
We began with a brand new 27′ travel trailer pulled by the Toyota Tundra we had originally purchased to tow the popup tent trailer that had taken us on many wonderful vacations and weekend getaways and introduced us to RVing.
Home sweet home – May 2007!
The interior was open and airy, and we were thrilled beyond belief to downsize our lives to be able to live comfortably in this pretty little rolling home.
Our first year was a whirlwind of “Wow” and “This is the First Time Ever!” experiences.
Yosemite National Park was one of our first major destinations after we picked up our trailer near Dallas, and all the major National Parks were at the top of our “must do right away” list.
Beautiful Yosemite National Park was one of our first destinations.
We loved dry camping with our popup, so we looked for dry camping campgrounds in our new lifestyle wherever we went. At California’s Westport-Union State Park, under the open sky and perched above the crashing surf, we installed our initial solar power system.
Camping overlooking the ocean was a great place to install our solar power system.
Continuing up the coast, we quickly learned how scary it can be to drive a “big rig” on the twisty coastal roads of northern California and Oregon where logging trucks barrel around the corners at full speed.
Mark quickly got used to it, though, and despite going down a wrong road and having the classic new RVer’s terrifying experience of being in a tight spot with nowhere to turn around, we made it to some gorgeous places along the Oregon and Washington coasts.
Yaquina Head Lighthouse in Oregon
In Oregon we traded our Toyota Tundra for a much stronger Dodge Ram 3500 truck and discovered the stunning beauty of the Cascade mountains in Washington. Mt. Rainier seemed to pose in the background of every view.
Mt. Rainier in Washington
Seeing snow-capped mountain peaks was yet another “first.” At Olympic National Park we were awed by Hurricane Ridge, especially watching a bunch of kids heading up the mountains to go snow boarding in the middle of July!
Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park, Washington
We took the ferry to Vancouver Island and scooted along the coast to Campbell River.
Witnessing real live sheepdog trials, and seeing goats living on a rooftop, and walking past houseboats in the harbor gave us more “firsts,” and taking our trailer on the ferry both ways was not just a “first” but a total thrill.
Back on the mainland we continued our insatiable quest for Beautiful Places at a breakneck speed.
Diablo Lake in Washington
Wyoming’s Yellowstone National Park was soon in our sights, and it was only while looking at our photos of the steaming geysers later on in our rig that it dawned on me why the park is called “Yellowstone.”
Such was our simple innocence about this country we had lived in all our lives. It felt so awesome to be out seeing America up close.
Geysers at Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming
One morning in Mammoth Campground at Yellowstone we woke up to see two young elk nuzzling each other right outside our window. Their courtship went on for 15 minutes while we watched them wide-eyed and glued to the window.
Young elk nuzzling outside our trailer window!
More Yellowstone firsts included seeing wild burros, pronghorn antelope, and coming within a few feet of a bison.
Every day we were in a breathless state of ecstasy.
Besides whipping through our bucket list — which wasn’t very long back then — we woke up every day astonished to realize that we were free. Utterly free.
There was no alarm waking us up, no boss tapping his toes waiting for us, and no employees or kids needing our daily guidance.
Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming
We actually felt a little funny about running away to such an awesome lifestyle so young. We were 47 and 53 years old, and everyone we met would ask in disbelief, “Are you retired?”
We hadn’t realized that the world of full-time travelers, and indeed the world of people in general who are out and about during the day on weekdays, is dominated by retirees.
We’d joke and say, “We’re not working at the moment. If we run out of money later, we’ll become greeters at Walmart!”
Mt. Rushmore National Memorial in South Dakota.
We zipped through South Dakota to finish establishing our residency there and then turned south.
Utah had become our favorite state during our vacation RV travels with our popup tent trailer, and in our first year on the road we discovered wondrous Goblin Valley where a little kid running ahead of me into the vast playground of red rock hoodoos yelled out: “This is Heaven!”
Camping at beautiful Goblin Valley State Park in Utah
Nearby, we hiked our first slot canyon, Little Wild Horse Canyon, and we loved every minute of slithering between the towering, curvy walls.
Little Wild Horse Slot Canyon in Utah
One of my lifelong dreams had been to become a published writer. As Halloween of 2007 neared, I decided it was time to put my writing dream to the test. Very much inspired by Kay Peterson who was a prolific writer and founder of Escapees RV Club, I wrote a feature length travel article about the ghouls and goblins of Goblin Valley for Escapees Magazine.
I didn’t know anything about editorial deadlines back then, so my submission was very late for the Halloween issue. But their super skilled editor at the time, Janice Lasko, sliced it down to an elegant single page and published it. OMG. I floated up to Cloud 9.
Since then my writing dream has been fulfilled…and so much more. I have now published over 100 feature articles in the RV and sailing industry magazines and was given my own little bi-monthly column on the back page of Trailer Life Magazine. What a dream come true!
Meanwhile, after an early winter season in the southwest in 2007-08, we discovered that Florida was enjoying a lot more warmth that year than Arizona was. So we dashed across the country and dipped our toes in the vivid waters of the Florida’s Emerald Coast.
Pensacola Beach on Florida’s Emerald Coast
If there is one huge lesson we have learned over the past ten years it is that traveling is a process of shedding one’s prejudices and preconceptions.
Before seeing a place, everyone has an idea of what it’s like, because we read things and see photos. But those are just postcard sized glimpses, and they are someone else’s vision.
It isn’t until you actually go and visit a place yourself that you can have any real notion of what it is really like there.
And so it was with Florida for me.
We discovered Florida’s beauty early in our travels and we’re so glad we did!
Mark had spent time in Florida growing up, but I’d been there only a few times to visit family, not to sightsee. The little I’d seen and the tales I’d heard of high rises on the beach in Miami, the cheesy tourist traps everywhere and the endless golf courses didn’t excite me much. So, when we began wandering all over the Florida with our trailer, I didn’t expect to fall in love with the state.
But I did. Florida is just wonderful!
We got down as far south as South Beach in Miami (oooh such clear and warm water — fabulous!) and we hung around the state through Spring Break which was soon in full swing everywhere.
While strolling down Daytona Beach one day, a phalanx of hot bikini clad babes approached us. Our jaws dropped as we stared at this line of teenage female perfection coming at us. I grabbed my camera and Mark quickly jumped into their midst and asked if we could take a photo.
Mark is one happy camper!
Needless to say, that photo made the rounds of all of his friends for the next 24 hours. The funny things was, as we both were waking up the next morning we said to each other simultaneously, “Did you notice that all of those girls had a belly button ring?”
The world was changing around us, but we hadn’t really noticed. And it would be a few more years before it really hit us just how fast and dramatically those changes were happening.
I had never heard the word “antebellum” before — I guess I wasn’t paying attention in high school — but I knew it well after seeing lots of antebellum mansions in Natchez, Mississippi. These “firsts” seemed endless in those early days.
Antebellum mansion “Longwood” in Natchez, Mississippi.
Our 27′ travel trailer had proved to be too small that first winter. We had been living on solar power since we started this full-time RVing adventure, but our single 130 watt solar panel hadn’t quite been up to the job during the long dark nights of winter. Supplementing with oil lamps hung inside the trailer was okay, but not great!
We realized it was time for a new RV. We loved visiting RV dealerships and factories all over the country, and we had gathered a stack of fifth wheel brochures that was three inches thick. So, on a factory tour of the NuWa Hitchhiker fifth wheel manufacturing plant, we decided to take the plunge and trade up to a brand new year-old model that had been housed inside while it waited for a buyer.
The economy was beginning to stall in the spring of 2008, and we got a great deal on our new fifth wheel trailer. We now had cushy recliners in the back and three slide-outs.
To top it off, we installed 480 watts of solar power on the roof and a big solar charge controller and inverter in the basement. We had gotten hookups only a handful of times so far in this new and crazy lifestyle, but now we would now live as if we had electrical hookups all the time.
Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada.
We also discovered — after exhausting ourselves by running around so much — that we weren’t on vacation. All those beautiful places would still be there next month, so why run? We slowed way down, and the summer of 2008 gave us a full and glorious month at the North Rim of Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona. With diesel prices topping $5/gallon at the North Rim, it was an ideal time not to drive long distances!
Imperial Point at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon in Arizona.
This was followed by a month at Bryce Canyon National Park and nearby Red Canyon in Utah.
Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah.
During that summer I started this website. I was so grateful for the (very few) sailing and RVing websites that existed before we started our RV adventure, that I wanted to put our journey and discoveries out there for others to be able to learn from too.
Building this website added a fun new dimension to our travels. We now had a special home for all our photos, and it motivated us to try to capture really special images.
Here’s how this website looked before I converted it to WordPress in 2012!
We had graduated from our first “Year of Discovery” to our second “Year of Exploration.”
We were still shocked to wake up every day and not have to go to work, and we were still saying “wow” on a regular basis. But our new phrase had became “What a cool area!” as we ventured to places that were off the beaten path and that weren’t posted with National Park Service signs.
Cathedral Gorge State Park near charming Pioche, Nevada, was one of those many jewels that caught our attention as we perused our DeLorme Atlas looking for places to go. Crawling in and out of its exotic pinnacles, we said to each other once again, “What a cool area!”
Cathedral Gorge State Park in Nevada
Winter saw us back in the Sonoran desert of Arizona where the sunrises and sunsets are jaw-dropping… all the time!
Sunset in Arizona.
While buzzing around Arizona and experiencing the wild and crazy boondocking scene in Quartzsite, we were absolutely thrilled to have one of our photos of our rig land on the cover of Escapees Magazine, an incredible “first” of what has since then grown into a collection of 23 magazine cover photos.
Our first magazine cover image
Jan/Feb 2009 cover of Escapees Magazine
Flush with excitement, we zipped out to Florida again to get a whiff of salt air and some sand between our toes.
While watching the boats coming and going on the Florida coast, my yearning to see the world from the deck of a sailboat hit me full force. We had originally thought our travel adventures would be on the ocean, but we had changed our minds at the last minute.
Being on the water revived our idea of going sailing, and we soon immersed ourselves in the search for a suitable and affordable sailboat.
The search took us from Florida to California, and we made four offers on various Hunter 44 and 45 sailboats. We even paid to survey a sailboat in Oakland that we ended up not buying after we hauled it out and took a closer look with a professional yacht surveyor!
Buying a sailboat was a long process. We paid to haul this one out, but discovered the seller’s definition of “mint condition” was not the same as ours!
In 2009 the economy was in free fall. We knew that with every month that passed, the quality of boat we could afford was getting better and better. But it took the boat owners a full year to realize their beloved yachts weren’t worth what they once were, and California boat brokers are a ruthless bunch to boot.
In our excitement (and terror) at planning a jump from RVing to sailing, we zipped down I-5 in California from one prospective boat to the next. Catastrophe struck while en route to yet another survey and haul out prior to closing.
With a full 10% of the purchase price down on a boat (required by California brokers), we had an accident while driving to the marina with our trailer, and I found myself on the side of the I-5 freeway in tears on the phone with our broker who absolutely refused to refund our money and give us time to regroup and get our rolling home repaired. If we didn’t show up for the survey before the contracted deadline, he said fiercely, we’d lose our money.
More tears and much anguish later, I eventually got the government agency California Boating and Waterways to intervene, and we got our money back. But we hightailed it out of the shark infested waters of California boat buying and sought solace with family in Michigan while our trailer spent seven weeks in a repair shop in California.
After a week or so of family visits in Michigan, we got the travel bug again. We rented a car and did a car/hotel tour of the perimeter of Michigan’s mitten and even got up into the Upper Peninsula. What a gorgeous state! We loved all the small towns that perch on the shores of pretty Lake Michigan.
Sunset at South Haven Lighthouse in Michigan.
Once our trailer was back in order, we resumed our travels out west and found paradise once again in the Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho.
Camping in the Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho.
We continued to check Yachtworld (the boating MLS service) every day, and saw that boat prices were continuing to fall as 2009 progressed. But we relished our RV travels so much it almost didn’t matter if we made our (my) sailing dream come true or not.
Mark was as enthusiastic about going cruising as I was — we had both been enchanted by the book An Embarrassment of Mangoes about sailng the Caribbean — but the primal urge to live on a sailboat and travel by sea was really mine. Yet I had to admit that every day of our RVing lives was a total thrill too, and during the summer of 2009 we enjoyed every minute in our buggy.
We had never known any true cowboys or cattle ranchers in our previous city based lives. As we traveled the west in these early years we were fascinated to meet and spend time with several different ranchers, and we learned terms like “section” which equates to 640 acres or a square mile of land.
Chatting with one old rancher and his wife out camping, we were amazed to hear their stories of ranching on horseback decades ago as they raised cattle on their SIX SECTIONS of land in eastern Wyoming!
They joked that their kids now do it today with ATV’s. How cool is that? And how would we have ever met that couple if we’d stayed home in our old lives?!
Our first rodeo — Helmville Rodeo in Montana.
By the fall of 2009, we had enjoyed two winters of RV life split between the southwest and Florida, but I just couldn’t spend another winter freezing in our RV again! Both Arizona and Florida are warm states, but the cold winter storms that swing through are much colder when boondocking in an RV!
Besides, if we were going to cruise the tropics in a sailboat, we had to decide whether we’d sail the Caribbean or the Pacific coast of Mexico. It was time to talk to some cruisers in the Caribbean.
On the beach in Grenada – What could be better than a winter in the tropics?!!
We hopped on a plane and flew to the Grenadines. We had sailed together in the British Virgin Islands and I had sailed in the Grenadines in my previous life twenty years prior. How different it was to visit on a land-based trip! Unfortunately, the locals weren’t friendly and we had a bad experience with an official in Bequia.
But that didn’t keep us from having a fantastic time, and it didn’t stop our obsession with Yachtworld either. It just confirmed that we weren’t going to buy a boat on the east coast.
Then, out of the blue, our dream boat came up for sale in San Diego — for a song. It was a one year old, unimproved, vanilla boat, perfect for the major upgrades we wanted to install ourselves. We had known about this boat for a while, but it had been priced out of reach. However, the failing economy had put it into foreclosure, and suddenly, with the impromptu submission of an online bid that was lower than low, the boat was ours.
Carriacou Island in the Grenadines.
We cut our 3-month Caribbean excursion short and left after just 3 weeks to dash to San Diego on a hastily arranged flight that included sleeping arrangements on a luggage conveyor belt at New York’s JFK airport as the New Year’s 2010 ball dropped in Times Square.
Our new 2008 Hunter 44DS sailboat was gorgeous. We quickly finalized the purchase and moved aboard, excitedly unlocking the padlock the bank had used to chain it to the dock.
What a fabulous life! We were in love with our beautiful yacht, Groovy. But our lives were now completely upside down!
Holy smokes, we own a sailboat!
We rushed the trailer into covered storage in Phoenix and dashed back to San Diego to try to figure out how to sail this new boat.
My previous boat that I had lived aboard for four years in Boston Harbor had been just 36 feet long and had had only one sail (it was a wish-bone rigged Nonsuch). Mark had never sailed anything bigger than a Hobie Cat. But we were eager beavers, and we jumped into our new lifestyle with glee.
We had a learning curve ahead of us on this fancy 44′ yacht!
We sailed 70 miles down to Ensenada, Mexico, as part of our offshore delivery closing procedure, and we lived aboard the boat there for six months while we outfitted it and got used to being cruisers.
What a culture shock this was on all fronts!
Ensenada, Mexico, is a fabulous party town.
We had been living a very quiet and super easy lifestyle in our trailer where we camped for free every night and saw beautiful things every day. Now we were living in Mexico, a totally foreign culture with a foreign language and very different history than America’s. And we loved it.
Ensenada is a fun and vibrant city that is an absolute hoot to live in. We were lucky enough to be living at the swank Hotel Coral and Marina. Not only did we have electric and water hookups, we also had beautiful resort hot tubs and swimming pools right outside our door. What a life!
Over the years, we had found that the only way to get to know an area was to wander around on foot or by bike, and wander around Ensenada we did. The boat needed quite a bit of TLC, and we installed a fabulous solar power system on a beautiful arch on the transom. With every project we tackled, we needed to hit the town and buy some parts.
So, we walked all over Ensenada from one hardware store — or “Ferreteria” — to the next.
When we needed parts or tools anywhere in Mexico, the local Ferreteria was where we’d go.
I had studied Spanish before we ran off in our trailer in preparation for just such a life adventure, but Mark hadn’t. Yet he was the one who would walk up to the counter and say, “Buenos Días” with great confidence and then attempt to ask for whatever we needed in whatever Spanglish he could muster.
I was way too embarrassed to utter a sound at first, but over time I got past that. In the end, one of my greatest joys in our years in Mexico was reaching the point where I could hold a basic conversation in Spanish with a native speaker.
We returned to San Diego in the fall — anchoring out in one of the free anchorages every night — and we did our final preparations and upgrades for cruising.
Mark is a mechanical genius, and I was floored that he was able to complete the very complicated 60 gallon per hour water desalination system installation on our sailboat to convert ocean water to fresh drinking water while we were at anchor in San Diego Bay.
Our watermaker included two water strainers, 3 water filters and two 8′ long desalination membranes as well as a both low pressure and high pressure water pumps. It soon became Mark’s favorite part of the boat, and it produced enough water to wash the decks!
San Diego Bay
Catching the (more or less) downwind breeze out of San Diego in early November, 2010, we sailed 800 miles (at 7 mph) south to Cabo San Lucas and began our Mexico cruise for real.
Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.
Then, crossing the Sea of Cortez at its widest spot, we traversed the 330 miles where the violent Pacific meets the raging Sea of Cortez and all hell breaks loose on a regular basis. The conditions were horrible.
Mark laid on the settee in the cabin for most of the trip, not seasick but not happy. “There is nothing about this I like!” he said at one point.
We laugh about that now, how I dragged him to the tropics — kicking and screaming — on a sailboat. But at the time I was just as miserable.
The 15′ waves chasing us down from behind 24/7 were terrifying. Our kitchen knife flew off the counter and landed like a dagger in the floor. Our stainless steel teapot flew off the stove just before I pulled the latch to allow the stove to swing in the massive waves, and to this day it still bears a huge dent in its side from hitting the companionway stairs, a friendly reminder each time we boil water of where our traveling lives have taken us.
Our stainless steel teapot got a big dent in it when it flew off the stove crossing the Sea of Cortez. We still use this teapot today in our rig…!
While Mark willed the world to stop rolling and let him off mid-ocean, I spent my time calculating and recalculating just how many more hours it would be until we made landfall.
Three days and two nights of sailing eventually got us across the open ocean to Mexico’s mainland. After dropping the hook and settling into Chamela Bay, for the next week I woke up every night in the middle of the night in a total panic as I felt Mark next to me in bed and wondered who in the heck was on watch in the cockpit steering the boat!
Joshua Slocum, the first man to sail a small boat around the world solo (1895-1898), had the same experience on his voyage. But in his delirious state, when he looked into the cockpit he saw Christopher Columbus at the helm! Now I understood exactly what he was talking about.
What made my confusion all the more real on those first frightening nights at anchor was that the boat moved constantly in the waves. The Pacific Ocean is anything but “pacific,” and the boat swung wildly all night every night.
Big waves at Chamela Bay on Mexico’s Costalegre.
We had to make more overnight passages as we continued south along the coast, and although we never liked them — we did 31 overnight passages all together in our nearly four years at sea — we eventually got used to them.
Mark would pass his time on watch learning to play new songs on his guitar, and I would pass my time by writing. Neither of us could sleep a wink while off watch, so these overnight passages were essentially all-nighters for both of us!!
Sailing at night has been described as galloping bareback through the woods blindfolded. Very apt!
But all that uncomfortable stuff aside, the sights we saw during the day were breathtaking.
Las Hadas resort in Manzanillo Bay was our first major stop, and we loved every moment we were there. It was the setting for the movie “10” and even without Bo Derek, this place was a “10” all the way.
Las Hadas Resort beach in Manzanillo Bay, Mexico
The condos next to Las Hadas Resort looked like something out of the Mediterranean!
We began meeting other cruisers, and several people who had been cruising in Mexico for a year already talked us into sailing further south to Zihuatanejo. And this was where we finally hit our stride as cruisers.
Mark does a little fishing from our dinghy tied to the back of Groovy!
It was Christmas but you’d never guess it on the beach. We got more and more laid back as we hung around this wonderful little tropical beach town. By day, we’d wander around on foot and on many afternoons we’d grab a $1 beer and “totopos” (salted fried tortilla chips) under a palapa (thatch beach umbrella) with our toes in the sand.
Before taking our dinghy back out to Groovy, we’d pick up a fish from the open air fish market on the beach for a yummy dinner aboard.
The fish market on the beach in Zihuatanejo, Mexico.
And then we’d watch the sun set into the ocean. One night we even saw the green flash!
The sun fell into the sea in a flaming ball of red every night in Zihuatanejo.
An enterprising couple ran a concession for cruisers, taking orders over the VHF radio for anything from beer to diesel to propane to laundry service, and delivering the goods by boat later in the day.
Zihuatanejo Bay, Mexico.
The VHF radio added a new and strange social element to our lives. Cruisers have virtual VHF radio gatherings every morning in the more popular anchorages, and suddenly we found ourselves hosting these morning rituals. Each boat in the anchorage would check in by name, and then any pertinent news would be announced.
After living such a private life in our trailer, we had suddenly turned into socialites. We gathered all the cruisers together for a Christmas Eve party at a local bar (to the bar owner’s delight). A week or so later, all the cruisers took their dinghies to Las Gatas Beach across the bay for a “pool” party in the water.
There was lots of activity of the non-human sort too. During the two month, 1,100 mile sail back up the coast towards the Sea of Cortez, we saw whales breaching quite close by.
A breaching whale in Santiago Bay, Mexico.
Anchoring for an overnight at Isla Isabel off of Mazatlan, we hiked around the uninhabited island and saw blue footed boobies with their very fluffy babies!
Blue footed boobies on Isla Isabel.
One of the big surprises in Mexico was that the water was often murky. This was largely due to the frequent invasion of red tide which has a month-long lifecycle that turns the water from the color of Merlot to a dark brown and then to a mustard yellow.
Red tide in an early phase of its lifecycle.
But up in the Sea of Cortez, in the spring of 2011, we found several anchorages filled with the beautiful turquoise water we had been dreaming of cruising in.
Many of the bays were picture postcard perfect.
Isla San Francisco in the Sea of Cortez.
Anchoring in these bays was still a wild ride every night, and there wasn’t much sleep going on. But the tranquility and remoteness during the day was sublime. At one point we went for 17 days without access to the world via the internet. It is hard to imagine that now, but even then it was a shock to be that far removed from the Real World.
Agua Verde in the Sea of Cortez
The only people we saw were villagers in the tiny fishing hamlets and small towns that dot the coast.
Well… the villagers and Wilson, of course, who Mark found lying on a deserted beach not long after we’d watched the movie Castaway!
One evening a boat full of people pulled up alongside Groovy in the pitch dark and offered to sell us some lobster. It was a family, and the mom had a toddler in her lap. We aren’t big lobster fans, so we jokingly asked if they had any Sierra which is a golden spotted fish also known as Spanish mackerel. They said no, but they could go get some.
Before we could ask what they meant, they zoomed off into the night. An hour later they appeared with a beautiful fish for us. We have no idea if they had thrown over a line and caught it or if they went back to their village and found someone who had one on ice somewhere, but it was a beauty and it was delicious.
Anchored at Isla Coronado in the Sea of Cortez.
One morning we heard slapping sounds outside the boat. We poked our heads out of the companionway and saw a school of rays leaping out of the water. They were popping up all over the place like popcorn. Some even did somersaults.
A mobula ray leaps out of the water.
These guys would fly out of the water and even do somersaults.
Cruising Mexico and anchoring out all the time often means dropping the hook in front of a luxury resort. Suddenly, in the middle of the Sea of Cortez where there is often nothing but raw nature, we came across the brand spanking new Villa del Palmar resort.
It had barely opened, and cruisers were welcome to walk up from the beach and have a drink at their poolside bar. Not bad!
We were given a tour, and looking out a window from high up in one of the towers, our tour guide explained how the six swimming pools had been laid out in the shape of a sea turtle.
Villa del Palmar Resort. The swimming pools are laid out like a sea turtle.
Cruising is not without its hazards, however, and on another morning we saw a boat impaled on a towering rock that jutted up out of the Sea of Cortez in th emiddle of nowhere. We found out later the singlehanding captain had dared a night crossing but had fallen asleep at the wheel.
Fortunately, a year or so later when we got down to Acapulco, we learned that he was able to repair his boat and continue cruising.
The sea can be unforgiving, and we saw and heard many terrifying tales of cruises gone bad.
By the end of that first cruising season we had very mixed emotions about the lifestyle. On our boat we had experienced higher highs and lower lows than in any other lifestyle we’d ever lived. It was thrilling and often extremely beautiful, but a lot of the time it was very trying as well.
We were “living the dream,” but was it a dream??
We had poured our life savings into buying and outfitting a sailboat for what we thought would be a 10 year off-and-on cruise, going home to our trailer during hurricane season each summer. But now we weren’t so sure about it all.
Bahia Concepcion in the Sea of Cortez.
We left Groovy in San Carlos, Mexico, on the mainland side of the Sea of Cortez and took the bus 10 hours north to Phoenix. We were thrilled beyond belief to get back in our little buggy and take off for Utah and northern Arizona for a quickie 12 week sojourn.
We loved everything about living in our trailer and camping in the jaw-dropping scenery of the western states, and it felt so great to be doing it again.
Cedar Breaks National Monument welcomed us with beautiful wildflowers and wonderfully brooding summer monsoon skies.
Cedar Breaks National Monument in Utah.
But we loved many things about our life aboard Groovy too, as tough and gritty and salty and dirty as the cruising lifestyle could be.
After a quick dash from Flagstaff, Arizona, through the red rocks of Utah in our trailer, we returned to Mexico as “second season” cruisers, a status in the odd social strata of the cruising community that took us out of the class of rank beginners.
It felt great to know what we were doing, and in the course of a few months we sailed back down south from the middle of the Sea of Cortez to Puerto Vallarta, Zihuatanejo and then on to Acapulco and finally to the spectacular Bays of Hualulco, about 1,600 miles all together.
Working the winches.
On our way south we revisited all the spots we had seen the year before, but Acapulco was a new and fabulous surprise. We watched the famous “La Quebrada” divers doing swan dives off the cliffs into the depths of the swirling ocean below, and we discovered that the outlying anchorages were absolutely wonderful and full of life.
La Quebrada Cliff Diver in Acapulco
One night we were awakened by whales singing to each other in the bay. The beautiful and mysterious sound was amplified by the hull of the boat and filled the cabin with exotic squeaks and squeals as we laid in bed! It seemed like the whales were all around us.
One morning Mark pulled up the anchor to find a sea horse staring at him as it hung onto the anchor chain with its tail wrapped around one of the links.
We discovered other wonders when we did some travels to inland Mexico too. Mexico is home to some truly stunning colonial cities that were built by the Spanish in the 16th and 17th centuries. In Oaxaca we found the cathedrals were ornately decorated and richly painted in gold leaf.
Our Lady of Assumption Cathedral in Oaxaca, Mexico
Inside the Santo Domingo Cathedral in Oxaca Mexico
The city of Oaxaca is utterly charming, and we walked the many historic streets mesmerized by the colorful buildings and the very artsy and funky vibe.
Historic street in Oaxaca, Mexico.
At night we visited the Zócalo, or town square, where several different celebrations and festivals were all going on at once. From a parade passing by to groups of Mariachi musicians playing on the corners and at the open air restaurants to a school reunion taking place in the middle of it all, Oaxaca came alive at night.
A trio of little girls dressed in traditional Oaxacan garb carrying baskets on their heads as part of their school celebration caught our eye.
Oaxacan children in traditional dress for a school celebration.
A little ways outside of town we visited the ancient Zapotec ruins at Monte Alban. These mammoth step pyramids dating back to the 7th century were mind boggling to see, and watching a school group in their red and white uniforms tour the ruins and answer their teacher’s questions was very special. This was a far cry from my school class trip to colonial America’s Sturbridge Village in western Massachusetts!
Monte Alban ancient Zapotec step pyramid in Oaxaca, Mexico
Sailing 400 miles further south to the last marina in Mexico’s state of Chiapas, right before the Guatemala border, we again took the bus inland to visit the Mayan ruins of Palenque. Again, we were stunned by the size and scale of this enormous, sophisticated and ancient city.
Palenque — ancient Mayan ruins in Chiapas, Mexico.
Taking a boat ride in an exotic long and skinny boat up the river that separates Mexico from Guatemala, we visited the very remote Mayan ruins at Yaxchilan and Bonampak.
Bonampak lies in a part of Mexico where indigenous people lived unbeknownst to westerners until they were discovered by two American explorers in 1929. Their descendents are now park rangers and they showed us the fantastic frescoes that line the walls of one of the temples, depicting the life and times of ancient nobles.
A fresco depicting the lives of Mayan nobles in Bonampak.
When we left our sailboat in Marina Chiapas in Mexico and flew back home to our trailer for six months in the summer of 2012, how amazing it was to look at the petroglyphs in Dinosaur National Monument in Utah and realize that they were pecked out of the rocks some 500 years after the frescoes had been painted on the walls of Bonampak 2,500 miles to the south!
Petroglyphs depicting… ummm… I’m not sure! In Dinosaur National Monument, Utah
As we took our buggy from Arizona to Montana, our heads were spinning by all we’d seen, and we were beginning to feel a depth and breadth in our souls that hadn’t been there before.
We felt like we were beginning to blossom into true adventurers. Even better, we were developing a budding understanding of the world beyond our back yard.
Sunset in the Bitterroot Valley, Montana.
As we visited the gorgeous Bitterroot Valley with our special friends and hosts in Montana and traveled to Flaming Gorge in Utah in the summer of 2012, we began to ponder what had happened to us in the last five years.
A rainbow over Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area, Utah.
We had set out to have an adventure in a small trailer, and we’d ended up learning how to live on the ocean in a foreign country with foreign customs and a foreign language.
Our desire to see the National Parks in the American West had expanded to take us to world renowed ancient ruins at several UNESCO World Heritage sites in Mexico.
Living abroad had taught us to see the world differently than we had before, and we felt different inside too.
Flaming Gorge, Utah.
Our interests were continuing to evolve as well, and photography was becoming more and more important to our daily lives. We wanted to do more than simply document what we saw. We wanted to learn how to take knock-your-socks-off photos!
We attended a terrific photography workshop in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado given by a photography blogger that Mark had been following for a long time, Nasim Mansurov. Those short three days ultimately became a significant turning point in our lives.
Fall color at sunrise in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado.
We returned to Groovy in the fall of 2012 knowing it would be our last year afloat and brimming with excitement to make the absolute most we possibly could of our final season of cruising.
Continued at: 10 Years of Life on the Road – 2nd Half!
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Inspirational and reflective posts about the RVing and cruising lifestyles:
Ex-pat Life on a Sailboat in Mexico:
An Overview of Our First 10 Years of Full-time Travel + Reflections after 9 Years!
Summaries of Each Year on the Road - All of our travel posts in chronological order:
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